When it comes to football, Prairie View coach Eric Dooley is known for saying we scratch where it itches.
Well, this spring football season it’s safe to say the Panthers haven’t had many itches to scratch. In fact, the 2-0 Panthers haven’t played a football game since March 13 due to COVID-19 protocols in this already abbreviated SWAC season.
It will be five weeks in between games when Prairie View takes on Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday in a showdown of the two undefeated West division teams. With the world still struggling to get the pandemic under control, it was known that the SWAC would have challenges pulling off this football season uninterrupted when it shifted the 2021 fall season to this spring.
Dooley has been undeterred.
“It’s not just me but I think it has been beneficial because you never know how the cards are going to be played or what hand you are going to be dealt, but you’ve just got to take them as they go,” he said.
The Panthers aren’t alone in dealing with games being postponed, canceled and the schedule being juggled around since the SWAC “spring” season officially opened Feb. 27. Only a handful of conference teams have played at least four games to this point with the conference championship game set for May 1.
Texas Southern has also only played two games so far and currently sits at 1-2. The Tigers haven’t played since losing to Southern, 51-23, on March 20. Their game against Grambling State on April 3 was postponed because the GSU Tigers had to press pause on their season for two weeks due to COVID-19 issues within the program. TSU won by forfeit this past weekend because Alcorn State chose to sit out this spring schedule.
The Tigers host Mississippi State on Saturday and then conclude their season at Arkansas-Pine Bluff next week. Prairie View will end the regular season at Jackson State on April 24 while its games against Alabama A&M and Southern have been canceled.
“It’s something that is hard to prepare for, but we expected it just with the whole COVID issues that we’ve been dealing with for over a year,” said TSU coach Clarence McKinney. “But we just prepare each day as if there was a game at the end of that week.”
Both Dooley and McKinney admit that it has been difficult preparing and then not knowing if the reward of playing a game on Saturday will happen or not. But Dooley commends his team for how it has handled the uncertainty.
“The guys understand that a lot of times you want to put that hard work in and at the end of the week get something from that,” Dooley said. “But the guys understand. I have a veteran team that understands the situation that is going on not just at Prairie View but the world.
“We understand that and are continuing to prepare ourselves for the next contest.”
Dooley also commends the efforts of SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland, who put this spring season together under some expected challenges. The league has been able to play in front of ESPN viewing audiences partly because of the time of the year and mainly because Deion Sanders, now heading up Jackson State, has created national attention for the SWAC.
“No one had the answers, because even playing in the fall it could be the same thing,” Dooley said. “I thought it was great because now it gives the student-athletes a sense of normalcy, something that they miss. There are teams playing and facing one another who haven’t played football in 400-plus days. That’s not the norm.
“So I thought it was a great idea, regardless of everything is not going to be same, not everybody is going to be dealt the same hand. But at the end of the day we all had the opportunity to go out and play something that we love. That’s football.”